BWW Reviews: CAN'T PAY? WON'T PAY? Chickenshed Theatre, October 12 2012
On the day British Gas raised their prices by 6% (half-year profits from its residential arm to July 2012 were £345m, up 23%), Chickenshed Theatre revived Dario Fo's anarchic 70s farce - his cry to act in the face of rising prices. Sure it's political, sure it occasionally jars in a post-2011 riots environment, but it's the most enormous fun for everyone on stage and in the stalls.
Fed up with the local supermarket gouging them for profit, housewives decide to "half-pay / half-steal" the food they need (but not trainers and HD TVs). High on the joy of collective direct action, they bring bag after bag home before realising that there are places to stash their food away from the eyes of the rampaging police and their sanctimonious husbands. Soon tall tales are spun, bellies expanding (to carry vegetables not babies) and pratfalls taken. It's inspired by Marx all right, but as much by Groucho as Karl.
Under Jelena Budimir's ultra-tight direction (the anchovy can relay is a tour-de-force), actors typical of Chickenshed's inclusive approach to casting hurtle around the stage to the delight of an audience, many of whom appear to be feeling for the first time the joy that only live theatre provokes. This company didn't need the Paralympics to know that people with disabilities are actually people with talent and they are not scared to mix seasoned pros with tyro students. As the central couple on a journey from passive to active resistance, Paul Harris and Roisin Rae hold the mayhem together, but they have to cede centre stage to Geoffrey Boud and Gavin May as a pair of bumbling police sergeants / inspectors / undertakers / ageing parents, a double act as funny as any from the golden age of television comedy.
Chickenshed's motto may be "Theatre Changing Lives", which it undoubtedly does, but it never forgets (and neither does Dario Fo) that for all the purposes to which theatre can be put, its primary one is to entertain. And entertainment doesn't come much more entertaining than Can't Pay? Won't Pay!
Can't Pay? Won't Pay is at Chickenshed Theatre until 27 October.